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Introduction Utopian Literature Dystopian Literature Utopian Communities


William E. Riker. T.L.C. to J.J. Doran, Holy City, CA, February 1, 1943

Father Divine, the head of the nation-wide Peace Mission, an integrationist utopian movement, decried the racism of Riker’s “religion.” Riker embarked upon a three-year crusade to convict Divine of mail fraud; he wrote to government officials at every level, earning even the reluctant attention of F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover. Although he was never successful in pressing charges, Riker maintained that Divine was an F.B.I. agent seeking revenge for his race.

John Edgar. T.L.S to William E. Riker, Washington, D.C., April 9, 1943.

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Set off from the highway in the Santa Cruz mountains of central California, Holy City (1918-1954) was founded by William Riker, a former confidence man and alleged bigamist, who ran four times for governor of California on an openly racist platform. Most of his doctrine was a white supremacist form of religion he called the Perfect Christian Divine Way.

The 30 members of this settlement lived communally, separated by sex. A cross between a tourist trap and a Christian haven, the commune in its heyday in the twenties and thirties boasted such unconventional luxuries as alcoholic soda pop, peep shows, an ornately decorated gas station, a radio station and a zoo, all to lure passing motorists to the commune. Messages throughout the settlement screamed of the “World’s Perfect Government.” Riker’s theological writings consisted of hundreds of almost incomprehensible and often contradictory pamphlets and manifestos, some written in crayon.

The problem of finding what is “utopian” in this commune remains daunting. However, Riker, while offensive, nevertheless represents an example of a single personality inspiring communalism and looking to change his society—as distasteful as his aims may have been.